Some notes on “Ron’s Wetsuit”.
I met Ray Barker on the bus to Ingleton one Saturday in 1955, he saw my helmet on the outside of my rucksack and struck up a conversation. He said he was in the Red Rose, I’d never heard of it. With a few friends and a copy of Pennine Underground we just explored things we could do with no decent gear, we didn’t know any caving clubs.
Ray said he was going to camp beside
Gingling Hole, the club would be joining him on Sunday, he invited me to join
him. When we set off walking from Settle
bus station he said “Well if you are going to sleep in the tent you can help to
carry it” and promptly swapped my light Youth Hostelling rucksack for his
The next morning the motorbike contingent arrived and we duly set off down Gingling, I felt honoured to be given two fifty foot electron ladders to carry? What a treat compared with lugging our home made fifty foot rope ladder.
I had to come out before the club bottomed Gingling to be in time to catch the last bus from Settle. The wives of Jim Eyre, Tom Sykes and Mike Bateson were in Ray’s tent and while getting changed and talking to them we heard a tremendous bang from underground. I thought there must have been a roof collapse and said I would run to raise the alarm with Cave Rescue. Rose said “ Don’t worry, It’ll be OK, It’s just Ron taking a photograph with his flashless smoke powder”.
I subsequently joined the Red Rose and met the infamous photographer Ron Bliss who choked and blinded everyone with his flash powder. I had taken a few black and white photographs using Johnsons smokeless flash powder so Ron and I joined forces in our underground photographic trips, usually with Barry Metcalfe as our model. I learnt a lot from Ron, he got me going with colour transparencies (quite rare in the fifties) and introduced me to home made flash powder, twice we let a pound off in Gaping Gill Main Chamber. We became the best of friends and even when I started climbing we would often get together on club trips.
At first we just wore old clothes with wool next to the skin, no waterproofs of any kind, except that is for Ray Barker. He had fuelled Vampire jets when he was in the RAF and was issued with PVC coated boiler suits, he brought one out with him when he left the RAF and wore it to pothole. He was forty years before his time but of course pile fibre hadn’t been invented so he was only half way there. The first waterproofs in general use were the ex RAF immersion suits, they were great when new but soon began to leak it wasn’t long though before everyone was starting to use wet suits.
Ron’s wet suit was fairly new when I took that photograph of him in the late sixties or early seventies on a trip to lost Johns. Our first suits were unlined and so very easy to tear, we always wore a boiler suit over them for protection, that will be why it still looks like new. Later suits, with the fabric lining were much tougher but out of habit we still wore the boiler suits as well. After doing Aquamud Sump there was so much mud, on and inside my boiler suit, that I couldn’t get off my knees, I took it off at the entrance pitch and sent it up on the rope, even then after scraping most of the mud off it must have weighed over twenty pounds. I never wore a boiler suit over my lined wetsuit again, but of course by this time neither did anyone else, that’s when wetsuits took on their tatty aspect.
Wooley jumpers Dow Cave
Immersion suit in Crackpot
Ray’s PVC suit at Deaths Head, late fifties.
Ron’s wetsuit in action, Aquamud Sump